Read An Exclusive Excerpt From Richard Marx’s New Memoir Stories To Tell
Long before Richard Marx got unexpectedly political on Twitter and even riled up a few insane right-wing senators, he had a long and fruitful career as a pop songwriter. From his early days making adult-contemporary hits in the late ’80s and early ’90s, through to co-writing some very famous songs for other artists, Marx has seen the music industry from a lot of different angles. We know Marx has no problem speaking his mind online — and now he’s doing the same in book form.
Marx has a new memoir called Stories To Tell coming out next week. In it, he traces all those decades in the music business. As the title promises, Marx has plenty of experiences and tales to relay. One of them includes teaming up with NSYNC during their heyday, to help make what would become one of the boy band’s signature songs. Ahead of Stories To Tell‘s release next week, we have an excerpt from Marx’s book about the time he spent working with NSYNC. Check it out below.
“This I Promise You”
In 2000, I got a call from an executive at Jive Records.
“Hey Richard, how’s it going? I’m calling to see if you might have a song for NSYNC.”
NSYNC was massively popular at this point, having sold about 8 million copies of their first CD in America alone. I was bummed because at first I didn’t think I had anything that was right. Losing an opportunity to work with the biggest group in the country at the moment would have been a major mistake, so I really racked my brain and went through a ton of old material to see if there was anything worth dusting off for them.
I soon remembered that I had recently written a song for a girl group made up of three Latina sisters. I had seen them perform at a wedding reception, and while nobody else in the room paid them any attention, I was blown away by their voices and stage presence. I had a few meetings with them and their father and had hoped I could sign them to a record deal and produce them. But the “business” part of it got way more complicated than it needed to, and I walked away from the idea.
In the midst of our discussions, however, it became clear that material was needed for them to record. So, I put on my songwriter hat and wrote a ballad that utilized three-part vocal harmony, with a mid-tempo groove (for those unfamiliar with music theory, that basically means: not too slow but not too fast), called “This I Promise You.” Due to the complications with the contractual stuff with them, the song never went further than my own archive.
I went to my music room and found the demo. Listening to the song again, I knew it was perfect for NSYNC, and the next morning I sent it to the executive at Jive. He called a few days later and said, “We all love it, and the group loves it, and Justin Timberlake suggested that we get you to produce it. Are you interested?”
As they were the aforementioned biggest band in the country, I jumped at the chance to work with them, and it was one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve ever had in my career. All five of the guys were gracious, focused, and kind.
But one thing that was immediately obvious was the incredible talent in Justin. It was clear even then that he was going to be a megastar the likes of which we rarely see. He had a fire in his belly that would not be tamed. He was constantly working on song ideas, arrangement ideas, vocal parts. It was really inspiring to even me, who’d been in the business fifteen years at that point and worked with all levels of talented and creative people. Everyone around him knew he was something special.
Making records is a blast for me, but for some it can be tedious work. There would be chunks of time while I was recording with one of the guys in the group and the other four guys would have that time to kill. Video games were already huge, and the lounge in the studio outside the control room had been outfitted with a big-screen TV and a video game console, where the guys would play against each other during their recording breaks. Not Justin, though. Instead of playing, any time he wasn’t needed to record something, he would ask me, “How long ’til you need me again?”
No matter what I told him — “About an hour, just fifteen minutes,” etc. — he would go into a studio next door to work on his own stuff. I had been in the midst of many big-time, high-functioning, and incredibly successful musicians before, and over and over again, I see it’s that commitment and drive that makes someone really talented into a superstar. Justin is no different. Even at his young impressionable age, you could tell he was able to get around the tons of distractions thrown at him and focus on his craft.
And, as it turns out, I became a big footnote to his (and the band’s) success. “This I Promise You” became a Top Five single on the Billboard Hot 100 and not only went to number 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart but remained there for thirteen straight weeks — a massive hit by any standard and one of my best-known compositions to this day. As I look back, even though it was tough to deal with at the time, I’m happy that things fell through with the group of Latina sisters for whom I’d originally written the song. It never would have found its way to NSYNC.
“This I Promise You” not only became a big hit, but it also became and remains an extremely popular wedding song thanks to lyrics like “Just close your eyes, each loving day, and know this feeling won’t go away … until the day my life is through, this I promise you.”
I know that up until this point, this story has been positive and, frankly, career-changing for me, especially the kismet of how NSYNC ended up recording this song and how I ended up producing it. If we’re being honest, though, there is one thing I have to admit that kind of sucked about the NSYNC experience, and it had nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with their insanely crazed fans.
We had to record in a small studio in the middle of nowhere outside of Orlando, where the guys were based. The sessions lasted two days and nights, and by the end of the first night, a bunch of young girls figured out where we were recording and camped out in front of the building, hoping to meet the guys. Seeing this happening, we always planned to sneak the members of the group in and out of the back of the building through a secret door and into a limo. They were whisked away back to their hotels, homes, whatever.
I, on the other hand, would just park in the parking lot and go in and out of the main studio door right past all the craziness. I was in my late thirties, four years past my last radio hit, and was a good twenty years older than most of the young ladies there. I got the feeling I wasn’t on most of their iPods, let alone walls.
A couple of girls came up to me as I came and went and asked, “Is Justin in there?” or “Will you please take this note to Joey?”
The night we were recording lasted into the wee hours. We finally wrapped around 3:00 a.m. Lance Bass, who did the last of the vocals, was led out the secret door in the back. Feeling good about the work we had just put in, I threw my bag over my shoulder and walked through the front door and headed to my waiting car.
There were still, even at three in the morning, several young ladies sitting on the ground of the parking lot, praying for a glimpse of Justin or Lance or any of them. Being a parent, I wondered who the hell would let their teenage daughters be out here like this but was too tired at that point to judge.
As I opened my car door, a very pretty blonde of about twenty appeared from the group and approached me.
I turned to her.
“Are you” — studying my face closely — “are you Richard Marx?”
I was shocked this young woman knew who I was, and frankly, pretty damned flattered.
With my best “Aww, shucks” demeanor, I said, “Uh, yes, yes, I am.”
Her eyes flew open wide and she said, about fifty decibels louder than before, “Oh … my … GOD! My MOTHER LOVES YOU!”
From STORIES TO TELL: A Memoir by Richard Marx. Copyright © 2021 by Richard Marx. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.